Beginner’s Guide: What are Crypto Private and Public Keys?

Beginner’s Guide / 16.12.2018

What is the Private Key?

The Private Key is a sophisticated form of cryptography that allows users to access their cryptocurrency. A private key is an integral aspect of Bitcoin and Altcoins, and its security make-up helps protect a user from theft and unauthorized access to funds.

What is Public Key?

The Public key is a cryptographic code that allows users to receive cryptocurrencies into their wallets (account). The public key, coupled with the private key, is an essential tool required to ensure the crypto economy’s security. An encryption technique uses a paired public and private key (or asymmetric key) algorithm for secure data communication.

When dealing with cryptocurrencies, a user is usually given a public address and a private key to send and receive coins or tokens. The public address is where the funds are deposited and received. But even though a user has tokens deposited into his address, he won’t be able to withdraw them without the unique private key. The public key is created from the private key through a complicated mathematical algorithm. However, it is near impossible to reverse the process by generating a private key from a public key.

How do they work?

A private key is shared only with the key’s initiator, ensuring security. For example:

  • A and B represent a message sender and message recipient, respectively. Each has its own pair of public and private keys. A message initiator or sender sends a message to B. A’s message is encrypted with B’s public key, while B uses its private key to decrypt A’s received message.
  • A digital signature, or digital certificate, is used to ensure that A is the original message sender.
  • To verify this, B uses A’s public key to decrypt the digital signature, as A must previously use its private key to encrypt the digital signature or certificate. If readable, the digital signature is authenticated with a certification authority (CA).

In short, sending encrypted messages requires that the sender use the recipient’s public key and private key to encrypt the digital certificate. Thus, the recipient uses its own private key for message decryption, whereas the sender’s public key is used for digital certificate decryption.

The private key can take a few different forms, usually depicted as a series of alphanumeric characters, making it hard for a hacker to crack. Most users represent their wallet keys in wallet import format, which has 51 characters. Think of a public address as a mailbox, and the private key as the key to the box. The mailman, and anyone really, can insert letters and small packages through the opening in the mailbox. However, the only person that can retrieve the contents of the mailbox is the one that has the unique key. Therefore, it is important to keep the key safe because if it is stolen or gotten without authorization, the mailbox can be compromised.

Closing Thoughts

Remember that if you don’t have your crypto’s private keys, you are not the real owner! There’s no perfect way to store your crypto assets, but do not ever disclose your private keys to anyone and make sure you are storing them safely! It will help you a lot throughout your Crypto Adventure!

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Born in Bucharest, Marius is the founder of Crypto Adventure. Since his first contact with Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, he never stopped believing that they are one of the most important innovations of our time, which will forever change the way business is done.